Vines 101

Vines are fun to grow. Since they need very little root space to flourish, they will have ample room to grow, no matter if your yard is small or large. Many vines have beautiful flowers, and the bloom period can be months long, offering another opportunity to fill your yard with color.

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Used this photo of the lovely queens wreath vine on another site I write for – SWGardening.com.

Vines for Shade!

Vines are good for arbors. Say you want summer shade and winter sun, vines are the answer, simply plant one that is winter deciduous. If you want a year round leafy bower, plant an evergreen vine. Vines can be used for green foliage, seasonal color, screening, shade, overhead cover on an arbor or ramada, or simply because they are beautiful.

Types of Vines

Vines are classified for landscaping by the way they climb. They can: twine, grasp with tendrils, grasp with rootlets, or act as a weak subshrub with branches that must be tied into place.

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One of the Campsis or trumpet vines. This and the cover photo courtesy of Dr. A. Trnkoczy.

Landscape with Vines

When considering vines for your space, consider what you want covered — an outer wall, a fence, an arbor, or possibly the walls of your home. Which vine you select depends on what you are covering and how you are going to get the vine to cover it. For example, vines that grasp with rootlets are fine on unfinished brick or block, but when they grow large, they can pull the stucco off walls.

Natives are Best

There are a vast number of native vines that grow well in the area. As always, I prefer native species that feed native pollinators, plus do well in our alkaline soils, alkaline water, summer heat, and over all low humidity.  I try to only mention plants that are easily available at local nurseries. Big box stores will not have most of our Southwestern natives because they buy nationally, not locally.

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Native climbing milkweed vine attracts the butterflies and needs little water. More next week! Photo courtesy of B. Breckling.

I adore native vines for a number of reasons. First, and best of all, as natives to this area, they survive with local rainfall only. Once they are established, I never ever need to water them again. If I do water them, they reward my meager attention with blooms and growth. As natives, they attract native butterflies into my yard. All native vines twine on their own, and can be found existing in harmony with saguaros, ocotillos and mesquite trees.

A Real Charmer

If you can buy only one vine, I love the snapdragon vine (Maurandya antirrhimiflora). It has tiny, heart-shaped to spear-shaped, bright green leaves, and grows reliably year after year. The leaves are cold-deciduous, dropping when it freezes, but the vine recovers quickly in early spring. A moderate grower, it can reach 10 X 4 in the second year, and more in future years.

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Snapdragon vine comes in many colors. Photo courtesy of M. Licher.

I started in 2004 with a single plant, and it has seeded in in several spots. At this writing, my snapdragon vines have been blooming since mid-March with small, snapdragon-like flowers in shades of pale purples and pinks. I did have one with white flowers for a while, but I dug that area over in winter and I think I killed it. I tell you this to remind you – we all kill plants sometimes.

Snapdragon vine flowers are visited by hummingbirds, butterflies, and a tiny native bee (might be a longhorn bee) so I am not sure who the official pollinator is supposed to be. Who ever it is – they are doing a great job! My single plant purchased in 2004 has now spread to several spots around the yard – but I wouldn’t call it weedy. It only comes up in shady areas where it has something to climb! If you don’t want it there, it is easy to yank out, or gently dig up and transplant.

More native Vine Selections will be covered next week.

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For yet more low-water vines that attract butterflies here in the Land of El Sol, I do recommend one book I wrote on the topic – Butterfly Gardening in Southern Arizona.  (It works across the Southwest in USDA Zones 9 and warmer. – so also Phoenix and El Paso, not to mention Las Vegas and Palm Desert!  Note- This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute may get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

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2 thoughts on “Vines 101

  1. While these are lovely and I like to help pollinators – I would not mind some food for me. Will you cover that please?

    1. Hi Koibeatu,
      Thanks for your feedback. I truly value hearing what you want to learn about.
      The next post is already slotted in – it’s about native vines, but I will work on some edibles. I do like the passion flower vine for our area, and for the summer you could grow squash or cukes up an arbor – use small edibles like the lemon cucumber or patty pan squash.

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